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Meet Alix Collingwood-Swinburn, Curator, Contemporary Art in University Library & Collections

Where did it all start?  

I’ve been passionate about art and creativity for as long as I can remember and have always identified with, and been drawn towards, visual learning. Being fortunate enough to visit galleries and museums throughout my childhood and education had a significant impact on me and I was particularly taken by the lack of women artists throughout the western art history narrative. These experiences have certainly helped shape my ambitions and determination to champion a truer representation.

Tell us about your career to date

I’ve been in my current post as Curator for Contemporary Art at the University since 2016, but was formerly Curator and Acting Senior Curator at MIMA (Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art). I joined MIMA in 2007 when the organisation was only six months old. I progressed to Acting Senior Curator in my time there, developing curatorial specialisms within modern and contemporary art, developing internationally significant art exhibitions, projects and programmes, community engagement and collections development. That included Art Fund International – a £1 million funded programme to acquire and commission artworks by international artists, specifically North and Latin American post-WW2 drawing.

During my time at MIMA, the organisation transferred governance from Middlesbrough local authority to Teesside University, a change I found particularly positive, enabling me to traverse two areas of interest: curation and education. However, after seeing the organisation develop and grow over almost nine years, I was ready for a new challenge.

Tell us about your current role 

As Curator, Contemporary Art, I have responsibility for the University’s diverse and widely distributed collection of primarily modern and contemporary art, utilising the collection to support and underpin research, University teaching, and public engagement. The role enables me to combine my experience of, and interest in, the education sector, with a specialist understanding of modern and contemporary art, collections and museums.

I hold a Master’s degree in Art Museum & Gallery Studies, and I’m particularly passionate about the role art can play in research, education and social change, and in the contemporary role of the curator and how we work with collections.

I currently manage the University Art Collection, its continued development and its associated art programmes. This involves day-to-day collection management, in addition to both student and public engagement projects, such as exhibitions, events, festivals, and workshops. I collaborate closely with the regional creative community to support these programmes through artist residencies, research projects and commissions. I additionally teach curating on several University modules - particularly visual arts and visual culture related subjects – and work together with local schools and further education colleges on developing opportunities linked to the art collection, arts education and arts careers.

The art programme forms a wider platform for the visual arts, taking place across the University and City, in our museums, public spaces and community spaces. It comprises exhibitions, talks, workshops and events featuring international, national and regional artists, quite often focused on social or activist issues.

In the past, I have collaborated with the arts collective Nasty Women North East, co-curated an artist research project focused upon working class women artists and worked in partnership with galleries, such as Pink Collar Gallery, and international artist collectives on commissions around femicide.

I also sit on the steering group of the University’s Centre for Visual Arts & Culture (CVAC). Outside of the University, I am a Trustee of Alington House Community Association and a Non-Exec Director for Changing Relations CIC; an organisation using the arts to transform the way people think about gender stereotypes and relationship behaviours.

What advice would you give women looking to succeed in your area of work?  

Don’t give up, and stick to what you believe in. I feel extremely privileged to have had the opportunity to work side by side with, learn from, and be supported by so many outstanding women throughout my career. They have definitely influenced my decisions. Increasing awareness, inciting change and supporting each other are of huge importance to me and I often reflect on these themes through my work.

What are your interests or passions outside of work?

I love getting outdoors, horse riding, swimming, walking – just experiencing wide open spaces, breathing clean air, and resetting. I’m a big believer in exercise being good for the soul.